The Brooklyn Nets have been a difficult team to figure out all season. Early on, a 2013-14 season that began with championship aspirations was reduced almost immediately to little more than a dumpster fire. But things have turned around and now the Nets are the middle of playoff hunt that could yield them a No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference if they can continue to play at a high level. Problem is, with a record-setting payroll and a future that’s been just about mortgaged, is a second round-and-out postseason something that can even be considered a success? Certainly, expectations need to be adjusted. However, with zero control over their own draft picks until 2019, the team has little choice but to continue to go for glory. So, with the trade deadline approaching, will general manager Billy King look to shake this roster up and find the missing piece to the puzzle?
Last week: 1-1 (21-25 overall)
Saturday, Feb. 1: The shorthanded Brooklyn Nets put in a valiant effort but fall short in Indiana, 97-96
The Indiana Pacers have paced the NBA all season. So when Brooklyn traveled to Bankers Life Fieldhouse on the second half of a back-to-back after a blowout loss to Kevin Durant and the Thunder, getting out of town with a victory seemed like an almost impossible task. But the Nets made a game of it behind a season high 24 points from Shaun Livingston as well as a strong effort from Kevin Garnett, who posted a double-double against arguably the league’s best center, Roy Hibbert. But with Brooklyn continuing to go small, Indiana simply proved to be a bad matchup all night. The Nets were eviscerated on the glass, getting out-rebounded 46-27 and and allowed 46 points in the paint. With Andray Blatche and Andrei Kirilenko both sitting, the Nets needed a big game from their franchise point guard and didn’t get one. Deron Williams shot just 3-for-12 from the floor, finishing with 13 points. The win was Indiana’s fourth over the Nets this season, securing a season sweep.
Monday, Feb. 3: Brooklyn holds off the 76ers, 108-102, to end a three-game skid
The Philadelphia 76ers aren’t very good and this game wasn’t very pretty, but the Brooklyn Nets needed a victory and were able to get one despite playing without Joe Johnson, Andrei Kirilenko, and Andray Blatche. The Nets needed someone to step to the plate and lead, and Shaun Livingston did just that, stuffing the stat sheet with 13 points, six rebounds, eight assists and a season-high seven steals. Credit Brooklyn’s incredible length on the perimeter for recordingd 15 steals on the evening and becoming the first team in the NBA this season to record 13 or more steals in three consecutive games. With a thin bench, Mirza Teletovic again continued to prove his worth, scoring 20 points in 28 minutes of action and drilling five 3-pointers. For the 76ers, rookie Michael Carter-Williams had 21.
THIS WEEK’S MVP: Shaun Livingston
The Nets may have found the biggest steal of the off-season in Shaun Livingston, who agreed to back up Deron Williams for the veteran’s minimum. Livingston has played his way into the starting lineup and incredibly become Brooklyn’s most indispensable two-way player, proving Jason Kidd right in the process. Remember, it was Kidd who pushed for the Brooklyn front office to sign him and it’s hard to imagine where this team would be if they hadn’t.
“He’s playing at a very high-level,” Kidd said, after the a victory over Philadelphia. “And we need him to do that. His character, on and off the court, he’s as good as they come. He loves the game and with the injury that he had, he appreciates it that much more.”
Livingston’s length and ability to guard three positions has really enabled Kidd to help the Nets find an identity by creating mismatches in small ball lineups. Assuming he can stay healthy and continue to thrive, he could be the x-factor for the Nets in a playoff series.
THIS WEEK’S LVP: Reggie Evans
Reggie Evans isn’t a good defender and he’s an absolute zero on offense. If he’s playing big minutes in your rotation, then you probably aren’t a real contender. Jason Kidd was forced to give “The Joker” some minutes the past two games with Andray Blatche on the shelf and Mason Plumlee in foul trouble and the results weren’t good. Evans didn’t record a rebound and was a minus-8 overall while on the floor. Here’s to hoping he can go back to being a “DNP-CD” sooner rather than later.
Coach Kidd – Coach of the Month
It wasn’t too long ago there was a virtual angry mob ready to burn Jason Kidd at the stake. Amazing what a few wins can do for one’s reputation. Kidd’s Nets went 10-3 in January, got back into contention, and got him some hardware in the process. Kidd seems to have found his voice in the locker room and found his team an identity as well.
“I’m still feeling my way,” Kidd said a home win against the 76ers. “But I’ve seen a lot in the first couple months. The biggest thing is being able to communicate with those guys in that locker room and making sure that we’re all on the same page.”
The last coach to win Coach of the Month honors for the Brooklyn Nets? Avery Johnson. He was fired a month later. Stay tuned.
Buyers or Sellers?
In an interview with the always terrific Zach Lowe of Grantland, Billy King implied that he’s willing to listen to offers for Brook Lopez. From the piece:
“We are not shopping Brook Lopez,” King told Grantland last week. “Our goal is to get Brook as healthy as possible. But if deals present themselves, we’ve got to look at them. If we can get draft picks back at some point, that would help.”
I don’t believe the Brooklyn Nets are “sellers.” They’ve put their chips in the middle already, and this is now year one of a two-year window to win a title with this current crop of players. Rebuilding is out of the question considering they don’t have control of any of their picks until 2019. However, the Nets may look to “retool” at the deadline. By stumbling into an identity (a defensive-minded, small-ball unit with length on the perimeter), the Nets may now be able to consider shaking up their roster to strengthen what they do well. Moving Lopez, a player who won’t contribute this season thanks to a broken foot, may be the best way to upgrade the roster right now. But no matter how you shake it, getting equal value back for Brook is out of the question. When you couple that with the chemistry this team seems to have developed over the past month, it becomes hard to envision this team doing anything at the deadline. Expect Brooklyn to stand pat.
A home game on national television against the San Antonio Spurs will be followed by a trip to Detroit to take on the Pistons. Brooklyn hasn’t beaten either team this season. Can Joe Johnson get healthy before the All-Star break?